Archive for August, 2010

Treat Vendors Like People

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

“Treat Vendors Like People”

Chapter 42 of Outstanding!

Every single day organizations buy all kinds of stuff—from technology systems to cubicles to paper towels—because they need all kinds of stuff to succeed. I believe that the exceptional organizations treat the vendors that provide these wares like customers.

Let’s say you have an outside sales rep calling on your organization—is she a customer of yours? You bet she is. Why? Because, as the 360-Degree Customer Concept says, she has legitimate expectations of you. Expectations such as being listened to, getting paid expeditiously, being treated respectfully, having phone calls and emails returned in a timely manner, and receiving thanks for a job well done. Communication and courtesy are things that people who sell to us want—and deserve.

In the 1950s, American statistician, professor, and lecturer Dr. W. Edwards Deming helped Japanese industry rebuild itself after World War II. From that experience and others, he developed his now famous 14 Points of Management. In point #4, Deming said that organizations should build long-term relationships of loyalty and trust with suppliers. The reason to do so is this: It is good business. No organization can achieve its goals without their suppliers, and a positive, trusting relationship returns more value over time than one that’s focused only on price and terms.

Do you see your vendors as partners—even colleagues—who help you succeed? Or, conversely, are interactions with them adversarial, filled with give-us-a-better-price friction and fill-out-these vendor-docs-in-triplicate demands? How many hoops does your organization make a supplier jump through to be of service? Are your contracts and procurement policies so lopsided they favor only the buyer?

While hammering out a training agreement with the food company Schwan’s, Kim Stephens, a director in their organizational development department, emailed me saying their legal department had “redlined” our document and he was returning it to me for my review. In our email dialogue, I asked a simple question and got back an outstanding answer:

John: “Tell me, is Schwan’s saying no negotiating on the red-line comments that your lawyer made on the contract?”

Kim: “Not at all. If there’s something you don’t agree with, we’ll talk about it. Marvin Schwan’s spirit is still alive here. As he always desired, agreements need to be win-win for both parties.”

Now that’s an organization that knows how to treat the outsider. Take it from a guy who has sold to organizations for many years: It is a real negative for the outsider when an organization makes the buy-sell process arduous and burdensome. On the other hand, when a customer treats a vendor with respect, the supplier’s desire to serve increases many times over. And let’s not forget: Even if someone is offering a product or service we don’t want or need, they still should be told swiftly, in a candid and kind fashion.

Though it’s easy to forget sometimes when we’re on the procurement side of things, vendors deserve to be treated as any of us want to be: as good, hardworking people doing their best each day. Outstanding organizations understand, as did Dr. Deming, that treating vendors like people is not just the right thing to do, it’s good for our organizations.

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